Kamloops grandmother stole $11K from employer to buy personal items, pay for dance group

Fraudster could face jail

A repeat Kamloops fraudster who bilked her employer for $11,000 to pay for concert tickets, weekend getaways and electronics — and to cover expenses for a youth dance group she ran — might not avoid jail after all.

Michele Huston pleaded guilty Thursday in Kamloops provincial court to one count of theft over $5,000.

Court heard Huston spent four months as a bookkeeper for Kamloops Heating and Air Conditioning, during which time she stole or fraudulently spent $11,000 of company money.

Crown prosecutor Leah Winters said Huston was fired in January of 2020 after her coworkers confronted her with a number of suspicious transactions. The extent of the fraud was discovered in the weeks that followed, after an audit and further investigation by Huston’s replacement.

Police were called in March of 2020 and Huston was eventually arrested.

Winters listed a number of personal items on which Huston spent company money, including concert tickets, a weekend getaway to Sun Peaks, an iPad, a Roomba vacuum, an Xbox and her daughter’s cellphone bill.

Huston also used company funds to cover expenses for Sim'ya Ukrainian Dancers, a youth dance group she organized. Winters said Huston used a Kamloops Heating and Air Conditioning credit card to pay facility rental fees to SD73 and a deposit for a bus charter, as well as to purchase a Sim’ya banner.

Huston, a 50-year-old grandmother, has a criminal record including previous convictions for fraud and theft.

Winters and defence lawyer Joe Killoran pitched a joint submission for a two-year conditional sentence order to be followed by three years of probation. The joint submission called for the fist six months of the sentence to be served under 24-hour house arrest with an exception allowing Huston to work.

Conditions of the sentence would prohibit Huston from accessing any money or credit that is not hers for the entire five-year period. She would also be required to pay more than $7,100 in restitution — the amount of the stolen money Kamloops Heating and Air Conditioning was not able to recover.

“Ms. Huston cannot continue to be in positions where she has access to other people’s money,” Winters said.

"What we’re proposing would cover five years of conditions that would attract some real jeopardy for her if she breaches them.”

Kamloops provincial court Judge Stella Frame did not like the proposal, saying it was too lax.

“This is not an adequate sentence,” she said, describing Huston’s actions as “predatory.”

"I don’t know how I can justify a two-year CSO with a criminal history like this and the circumstances of this fraud."

Frame told Winters and Killoran to come back with a tougher sentence or case law that would persuade her to agree to the joint submission.

“This is sitting very badly with me,” she said. "You both need to know that, and you should come up with a reason why I should go along with this. I am not just a rubber stamp.”

Two years is the longest a conditional sentence order can be, so a harsher sentence would likely include either more house arrest or jail time.

Huston had been slated to stand trial this week, but she instead pleaded guilty.

A new date for Huston’s sentencing will be set on Tuesday. She is not in custody.

More Kamloops News